DAYTON – The No. 7 seed Versailles Tigers defeated the No. 3 seed Reading Blue Devils 47-44 to earn an OHSAA D-III District Championship and advance to the Sweet Sixteen.
“We’re not the prettiest girls at the ball definitely, but we’re still in the dance though,’ said Versailles coach Travis Swank. “That’s all that matters right now.”
“I don’t think not a whole lot of people thought we were going to make it this far,” said Tigers senior Evan Hiestand. “They doubted us and we play as a team. We came together and we got it done.”
Versailles bolted out to a 13-0 lead at 3:37 in the first quarter before a Reading 3-pointer at 2:08 had the Hamilton County school on the board.
“We brought the intensity early and that kind of carried us through the game and got us a victory,” said Versailles starting guard Michael Stammen.
Versailles closed out first period play with a 16-5 advantage led by six Michael Stammen points including a trey.
“It’s hard to keep that momentum going. In the district championship they’re always a game of runs,” Swank said of the team’s early lead. “Nobody wants their season to end and you knew you were going to get their best shot here. They are a quality team and they’ve won 18 games for a reason.”
The Blue Devils battled back to take the second quarter 14-6 sending the teams to the break with Versailles holding a 22-19 lead.
Period No. 3 had the game tied at 33-33 and 35-35 late in the period setting up two Austin Toner offensive rebounds resulting in 4-points to close out the quarter.
“He played really tough today,” Swank noted of Toner. “We told him coming into the game he was going to have to be a glass-eater today. He controlled the boards and affected a lot of shots down underneath as well – blocked quite a few shots and made them tough around the rim. His length just bothered their smaller guys going in there to drive.”
Toner’s first rebound came off a missed free throw leading to Toner passing to Hiestand for a bucket. The second, just beating the buzzer led to a put-back giving Versailles a 39-35 advantage heading into the final period of play.
Reading’s Brandon Ross scored the first 6-points of the fourth quarter giving the Blue Devils its only lead at 41-39 before Versailles score six unanswered points.
Back-to-back Stammen free throws knotted the score and Dakoda Naftzger took advantage of a Hiestand assist to score at 3:17 for a 45-41 Tigers lead.
Reading answered with 3-4 at the charity stripe to trail 45-44 with 32.2 seconds remaining before Stammen hit 2-2 at the line giving Versailles a 47-44 lead with 0:21.4 remaining bringing a timeout from the Versailles bench.
“We wanted to make sure we took away the three,” said Swank. “We talked also about, do we need to foul there at the end, but we just kind of let it play out. We didn’t want to get beat by a three so we just played everybody tight at the three point. We were going to give up a layup if we had to.”
The Tigers smothering defense kept Reading from finding a shot before stepping out of bounds with 2.1 second remaining bringing a second timeout from Coach Swank.
“We smothered – we felt like they were going to look for the three so we stayed tight to everybody,” said Swank. “We defended the three point line petty well all year long and try to make guys that are uncomfortable driving the ball drivers, so that’s been our team philosophy all year long.”
Versailles lobbed a long inbound pass with the ball batted away from Hiestand while the clock ran out advancing the Tigers in tournament play.
“My final timeout we wanted to get the ball inbounded to Michael (Stammen) and send him to the free throw line, but if we couldn’t get it we were just going to throw it deep, keep it in bounds, tip it around because the clock’s going to run out at that point and that was the plan of attack right there at the very end.”
“Defense has been our priority all year,” noted Hiestand. “We try to get out after them on defense, get some steals, get help inside, contest shots – I feel like we are really good defensively when we want to be.”
The 2017-18 Versailles team graduated five seniors from a team that finished the season as district runners-up.
“Shows just a lot of grit and determination more than anything,” said Coach Swank. “We’ve been playing with a chip on our shoulders all year because people doubted us from the get-go that we lost a lot of good players. We lost five good seniors from last year and you have one senior back this year and one other guy that had experience. People were kind of saying where’s the production going to come from but our players didn’t believe in it. They just kept on getting better and better each game. You see the improvement here today and it got them a district championship.”
Reach Gaylen Blosser gblosseraimmediamidwest.com or (937) 548-3330